Inside Cuba's massive, weekly, human-curated sneakernet

Most Cubans have terrible access to the Internet -- estimates suggest only 5-25% of the populace can regularly get online. The government made it a bit easier in recent years with paid wifi hotspots, but they require dough, and they're super slow.

So Cubans have instead, in the last decade, evolved a complex, massive sneakernet. It's called "El Paquete Semanal", or "The Weekly Package" -- in which a loosely-connected group of Cubans assemble a bunch of files (video, audio, web pages, texts) and distribute them around the country via external hard drives, CDs and USB sticks. It's pretty stunning: A weekly curated version of the best of the global Internet, mixed with a ton of locally-produced Cuban content, too. The upshot is a population that is fully conversant in contemporary global TVs, movie and music, except they get it all via USB port and DVD drive.

A group of academics did a deep dive into how El Paquete works, and their paper is free online. They met with "Los Maestros" -- the folks who download and compile the material, relying on their own crowdsourced networks of Cubans who get files off the creaky public wifi, or, in the case of bigger files, from contributors who have fatter bandwidth at their government or university jobs. The Maestros also act as promoters of local content, finding Cuban music and video and putting that in El Paquete.

The next step in the chain is Los Paqueteros -- "The Packagers" -- who are the distributors: They buy the weekly package from the Maestros, and sell files to everyday customers. Read the rest

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Legendary coder and blogger Dave Winer is frustrated with the New York Times because it doesn't cover technology as "seriously" as it covers other things. Read the rest